How breathing exercises helped me to reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure quickly and why you should learn them too.
I was diagnosed with anxiety and high blood pressure in my mid-forties. It was a result of work-related stress. When I approached my doctor with a question how I can lower blood pressure he suggested physical exercise. Indeed, walking and jogging helped a lot with blood pressure management. Every time after exercise, my blood pressure readings were lower. Things were more complicated with anxiety. Those days I often felt like my body is on a constant high alert ready to overreact emotionally and jump into action triggered by a silly distraction. Most of us experience a similar feeling after having too much coffee during the day. I felt worried most of the time and small insignificant events, i.e. a 5-minute traffic jam, lead to a spike in anxiety and, as a result, to a spike in blood pressure.
Physical exercise is a fantastic tool to manage anxiety and high blood pressure. However, we do not always have an opportunity to do physical exercise when anxiety strikes. Also, treating anxiety prior to sleep time with physical exercise is not a great idea as it raises heart rate and have a negative impact on sleep. Hence easy breathing exercises for anxiety is a great complementary tool when we cannot perform physical exercise.
Slow controlled breathing is one of the best ways to lower anxiety and stress. This is because when we breathe slowly and deeply, it sends a message to the brain to relax. The brain then routes this message to the body. Those things that happen when we are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as we breathe deeply and slowly to relax. See an article in the reference section for scientific explanation why easy breathing exercises for anxiety work.
Here are my three breathing exercises which I find particularly efficient to lower anxiety. You can mix and match them during the day depending on your circumstances.
1. 4–7–8 Breathing
This breathing anxiety exercise is the easiest between the three. You can do it anywhere without drawing attention to yourself, even if you feel stressed in an important business meeting. They also work as great breath exercise for sleep.
1. Take a deep, slow breath from your belly, and silently count to 4 as you breathe in.
2. Hold your breath, and silently count from 1 to 7.
3. Breathe out completely as you silently count from 1 to 8.
4. Repeat for at least one minute or more if needed.
The 4–7–8 breathing sequence is a bit more difficult to learn then the equal length inhale/exhale sequence. It is more efficient however because longer exhalation engages actively our parasympathetic nervous system which in turn sends a message to the body to relax. For even better effect make deep inhales through the nose and get all the air out of your lungs through the mouth.
2. Alternate nostril breathing
This exercise comes from yoga and it has been practiced in eastern cultures for hundreds of years. It is a bit more difficult to learn than the previous one, but it is more effective as it forces the brain even more to switch attention from disturbing thoughts to breathing. Hence higher engagement of the parasympathetic nervous system and more relaxation for the body. You need to be aware though, that it is better to do this exercise in privacy. You need to close nostrils with fingers while breathing and this may look awkward to some observers
Here is how it works.
1. Close right nostril with your finger, inhale through left nostril
2. Close left nostril, exhale through right nostril, pause for 1 sec, inhale through right nostril, pause for 1 second.
3. Close right nostril, exhale through left nostril, inhale through left nostril, pause for 1 second
4. Repeat the cycle for at least 1 minute, always switching nostrils at the top.
3. Mindful breathing
This breathing for anxiety also comes from ancient contemplative practices. Over the last 20 years it has been explained from the scientific point of view why yoga for anxiety works and why it produces long term health benefits. Out of the three exercises described here this is the most difficult to master, it requires a quiet place where you will not be disturbed and yet if done regularly for 20–30 min every day it produces longest health benefits. It took me almost a year to learn mindful breathing and practicing it daily resulted in almost totally eliminating anxiety outbursts.
Here is how to do it.
1. Sit or lay down in a quiet place where you will not be distracted, close your eyes.
2. Make three deep breaths, try to relax face and body muscles
3. Focus on the area where you feel most your breathing, i.e. stomach or nostrils
4. Breathe normally following closely inhales and exhales, count breathes in your head. One on inhale, two on exhale, and so on
5. Repeat for at least few minutes
Sound easy, right? In reality this is a VERY difficult exercise as we get permanently distracted by thoughts in our head. Beginners find it difficult to stay fully focused on breathing even for 1–2 minutes. Here is where guided breathing meditations come very handy.
When anxiety requires a visit to a doctor
Some anxiety is normal and not a point of concern.
You should speak to a doctor if:
1. excessive anxiety that has a negative impact on your daily activities
2. you are dealing with anxiety causes by addictions
3. you are having irrational fears
4. thinking about self-harming
5. feeling out of control
To summarize. Breathing technique for anxiety is a great tool to lower anxiety and blood pressure when you cannot perform physical exercise. Breathe exercises for anxiety differ in learning complexity and effectiveness. Please try the guided breathing exercise on my website and let me know how it worked for you